This year has been a lucrative one for Sea-Tac Airport — from a Delta-Alaska duel to plans for an international terminal expansion. Now, the airport will be reporting a fourth record-breaking year in passenger numbers. The number is expected to total over 37 million, according to Sea-Tac spokesperson Perry Cooper.
“We are getting a huge increase in passengers,” he said. “We are expecting the number to increase by 7 percent [from last year], which is huge compared to other airports around the country.”
In 2013, Sea-Tac had 34.8 million passengers. It hopes to grow its passenger traffic to 66 million by 2024. Cooper says Sea-Tac is the fastest growing West Coast airport right now. Its passenger volume has increased 25.2 percent since 2000.
The bump can be partly attributed to a mid-2014 announcement by Delta designating Seattle its West Coast hub. In the last year, Delta launched international and domestic service from Seattle on more than a dozen routes and has grown 69.9 percent in seats — from 189,400 seats in 2013 to 321,700 in 2014.
That move has led to plenty of speculation about a battle between Delta and Alaska, but Cooper says that isn’t the case.
“Our market in Seattle has been underserved for years,” Cooper said. “Delta isn’t poaching from other airlines, but it has brought competition which is great for consumers.”
Forbes reported in November that Delta’s expansion has impacted Alaska’s pricing power in the Seattle market, which has shown in its unit revenue (the price paid per seat per mile of a flight). But Cooper pointed out that from a share standpoint, Alaska still has 52.4 percent and Delta is number two at 17.6 percent.
Smaller airlines like United aren’t doing quite as well though. Perry says United Airlines has been decreasing their number of flights and operations in Seattle for years, which isn't necessarily linked to Delta's presence. Since 2004, United has eliminated 408,848 seats and 5,937 flights at Sea-Tac — a statistic that includes its 2011 merger with Continental. The steepest drop came in 2013 when United dropped from 15,021 flights to only 12,851 in 2014 — a 14.4 percent decline.
Despite this, Cooper said that the average load factor for smaller airlines (the percentage of seats filled on average in their aircrafts) is higher at Sea-Tac than nationally. For example, United’s load factor is 88 percent in Seattle and 86 percent nationally.
At press time, neither United, Delta or Alaska Airlines had responded to repeated requests for comment.
So is there enough business at Sea-Tac to go around?
“There is a call for more aircrafts here, people are coming here,” Cooper said. “Connections from here go internationally to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and that brings traffic here domestically. The Microsofts, Amazons and other big companies in Seattle are looking to try to get to these places around the world.”